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Making A Portable Chicken Tractor

 
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Hypothetically speaking would it be possible to make a chicken tractor that folds up for transportation on a trailer to be towed behind a vehicle? Or would it be better to use solar electric poultry netting and rotate the pen area? I am also looking for ideas for a compact roost/nest that could go on a trailer for a day at a time then be set up for two weeks or so. I am thinking using the electric fencing would be best as long as the birds get locked up in their roost at night?
 
pollinator
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Better is relative and depends on the totality of circumstances.  

Can a tractor be designed to do what you want?  Yes, but the bigger question is if you can then build it, and affordably so.  I'm skeptical that you could do that as a backyard project, especially if it's going to be durable enough.

When I have meat chickens I use the poultry netting with a shelter for overnight.  The shelter gets moved at least once daily, and the electric net gets moved at least weekly.  Meat birds don't need (or use in many cases even if available) much in the way of roost bars, so their shelter can be pretty simple.  Hens are different, so if this an egg laying operation you'll need nest boxes and proper roosts in a coop for them for overnight.  

Main thing though is that a net fence will give them a MUCH larger area than any tractor.  So if giving them that space is important (and/or necessary) you might find you need to go that route.  But, if you can be out there to move the tractor 1-2 times a day that might be a good alternative.
 
gardener
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Humans can design almost anything - being practical that's another thing altogether.
I need some parameters:
1. number of birds - I have a small 4X8 ft shelter that will fit on our trailer. It has a bolted in perch and can have a nest box popped in, and when I had a 5 chicken remnant flock they were happy to call it home while fertilizing and cleaning up under my fruit trees and being moved once per day. I considered 5 birds pushing the occupancy - 4 would be better. They didn't have enough space to get most of their calories from the land, but my fruit trees appreciated them, and their quality of life was acceptable. It was light weight, and had wheels I could add or remove, so one person could move it easily.
2. predator pressure - a movable shelter that moves regularly will confuse some predators. Removing feed at night and teaching the birds to clean up their feed will help - rats like chicken feed, predators like rats, if the predators follow the rats to your chickens, the chickens will loose.
3. Aerial predators - Having a secure night/nest/food portable shelter and then letting the birds free range or have electric fencing during the day may work if the aerial predator pressure isn't too great. Again - moving the birds frequently (like weekly) will help with predator pressure. Even having some worn-out table umbrellas that move each day in the open space can keep the hawks/crows away (we hammer a piece of rebar into the ground and slide the metal pole of an umbrella over it to stay upright for meat chickens.) If the pressure from above is high enough you need netting over the area, that's much harder to manage on a portable system and still have it quick and easy to move.

Basically, in a perfect world, I would prefer to have multiple paddocks which would allow me to plant lots of chicken-friendly shrubs/bushes and with *lots* of mulch to encourage bugs (chickens are *much* more bug-avores than most people appreciate) and a light-weight portable night lock-up that would move weekly - it's in my plans. Most of the portable shelters I've met that are either large or complicated end up being left in one spot, because it is *really* hard to design them light enough. Our 10x12 ft shelters for hubby's professional egg laying business are marginal for me to move independently and they can only be moved on fairly flat ground over grass/low forbs. The only portable fencing I use regularly is dog exercise pen fencing and even the khakis can get over it - layers would in a heartbeat! I suspect the layers that stay in electric net fencing (ENF) have had one wing trimmed, but that makes it harder for them to perch high at night -higher perches helps keep the rats pressure down. Also, I and others have found that ENF is hard for a single individual to set up - two people is better, the places I've seen it used regularly had 3 people. That is assuming you don't grow rocks as well as we do!

So the short answer is yes, you can, although many of the larger ones I've seen are actually built onto a trailer base permanently. There are simply so many variables, that the longer answer is maybe. Decide what would be the most important parameters, google images and post links along the lines of what might meet your needs, and lots of people will help you problem solve from there.
 
Gail Jardin
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:Better is relative and depends on the totality of circumstances.  

Can a tractor be designed to do what you want?  Yes, but the bigger question is if you can then build it, and affordably so.  I'm skeptical that you could do that as a backyard project, especially if it's going to be durable enough.

When I have meat chickens I use the poultry netting with a shelter for overnight.  The shelter gets moved at least once daily, and the electric net gets moved at least weekly.  Meat birds don't need (or use in many cases even if available) much in the way of roost bars, so their shelter can be pretty simple.  Hens are different, so if this an egg laying operation you'll need nest boxes and proper roosts in a coop for them for overnight.  

Main thing though is that a net fence will give them a MUCH larger area than any tractor.  So if giving them that space is important (and/or necessary) you might find you need to go that route.  But, if you can be out there to move the tractor 1-2 times a day that might be a good alternative.


Thank you for your feedback! I think the poultry netting would serve more than one purpose than containing chickens, if I were to switch to chicken tractors the netting could be used for other animals or to protect the garden in the future. I will only have three too four laying hens, or six chickens maximum. I would love to have  a large flock but at some point I need to limit what I have to what I can efficiently and economically raise.
I will need to come up with a good nestbox/roost arrangement that can easily be moved around. Ideally where it is secure enough to protect from predators, yet can be opened up for air and light if they can't safely be let out. I'm envisioning a nest/roost coop that has a chicken wire area that could somehow be put on drawer tracks to telescope out giving them a small pen area that would be secure (not necessarily like a chicken tractor for grass access, but more for fresh air and light when they can't be penned). I feel giving them space and new areas to enjoy free ranging is important, not just to the health and happiness of the chickens but for their eggs as well.
 
Jay Angler
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Gail Jardin wrote:

I'm envisioning a nest/roost coop that has a chicken wire area that could somehow be put on drawer tracks to telescope out giving them a small pen area that would be secure

It is getting really hard where we live to find a thick gauge chicken wire. All our new building is being down with 1/2 inch "hardware cloth" as it gives better predator protection and is less prone to damage.

Your idea of drawer tracks is intriguing. Hubby and I were discussing a similar idea for a slightly different project and I will be very interested in seeing pictures if you go that route. I think it could work, but will have to be engineered in such a way that the coop is still stable when they're in the "out" position.  I wonder if you could score an old light-weight tent-trailer as a base? The slide parts would be the beds, and there'd be space in between. If it was only open during the day, some sort of plastic mesh might be all that's required for the "day-time" position?

Good luck with whatever plan you come up with!
 
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